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EU Regulation Restricts Level of Trans Fats Found in Food

On 24 April 2019, the European Commission adopted a new EU Regulation that strictly limits the amount of industrially produced trans fats in all foodstuffs that are sold to EU consumers. The maximum limit corresponds to 2 grams of industrially produced trans fats per 100 grams of fat in food intended for the final consumer and food intended for the supply to retail. The new Regulation must be complied with by 2 April 2021.

Hong Kong companies selling foodstuffs for retail purposes or directly to the EU consumer may have already heard of the controversy surrounding trans fats, which has been raging for several years. Trans fats are a particular type of fat that can be produced industrially as partially hydrogenated oils.

According to EU figures, there is an increased risk to health among individuals who consume more than a minimum of trans fats. The risk of dying from heart disease is said to be between 20% and 32% higher, when 2% of the daily eaten energy is consumed as trans fats, as compared to other different fats or carbohydrates. The Commission also refers to World Health Organisation (WHO) data, which links trans fats to cardiovascular disease, leading to more than 500,000 deaths per year. The WHO’s recommendation is that no more than 1% of daily energy intake is from trans fats.

Hong Kong’s suppliers of foodstuffs may be aware that industrial trans fats can be found in some European countries in – among others – pre-packaged biscuits, cakes and snacks. Levels used have not dropped meaningfully since the mid-2000s. Products such as certain biscuits and popcorn are found to have as much as 40-50 grams of trans fats per 100 grams of fat.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), along with other organisations, have conducted studies pushing for the lowest possible consumption of trans fats. On 14 May last year, the WHO released “REPLACE”, a step-by-step guide for the elimination of industrially-produced trans fats from food supply chains worldwide. The guide points out that industrially-produced trans fats are contained in hardened vegetable fats, such as margarine and ghee, and are often present in snacks, baked foods, and fried foods. Manufacturers tend to use them as they have a longer shelf life than other fats. However, according to the WHO, healthier alternatives can be used that would not affect taste or the cost of food.

The WHO strategy also notes that several developed countries have virtually eliminated industrially-produced trans fats by means of legally imposed limits on the amount that can be contained in packaged foods. Some governments have implemented nationwide bans on partially hydrogenated oils, the main source of industrially-produced trans fats. Denmark, for example, is named as the first country to mandate restrictions on industrially-produced trans fats. In 2003, Denmark limited the amount of trans fat to 2 grams per 100 grams of fat or oil. Oils labelled “trans fat free” was not allowed to contain more than 1 gram per 100 grams of fat. As a result, in Denmark, the trans fats content of food products is said to have declined dramatically, and deaths from cardiovascular disease are seen to have declined more quickly than in comparison to other developed countries.

Following Denmark’s example, Austria, Hungary, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland have set similar limits that virtually ban trans fats from food products.

In order to level the playing field EU-wide, the European Commission adopted its Regulation on 24 April 2019. Its main provision states that the content of trans fat – other than trans fat naturally occurring in fat of animal origin – in food intended for the final consumer and food intended for supply to retail, shall not exceed 2 grams per 100 grams of fat.

The new Regulation also stipulates that food business operators supplying other food business operators with food that is not intended for the final consumer, or not intended for supply to retail, shall ensure that supplied food business operators are provided with information on the amount of trans fat, other than trans fat naturally occurring in fat of animal origin, where that amount exceeds 2 grams per 100 grams of fat.

The new Commission Regulation has been published in the EU’s Official Journal on 25 April 2019, as Commission Regulation 2019/649. It will enter into force on the twentieth day following that of its publication. Hong Kong suppliers of foodstuffs may like to know that food which does not comply with the Regulation may continue to be placed on the market until 1 April 2021.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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